Several years ago now, I can recall a report which identified Mallorca as having one of the highest levels of car ownership - if not the highest level - anywhere in Spain. All things are relative of course, and this level was relative - to the population. This ownership, and not only cars but also vans and other vehicles, dipped during the years of recession. Or at least the number of vehicles on the road declined. The Council of Mallorca, keepers of the island's main roads, have let us know that roads in and out of Palma now have traffic levels on a scale that they were pre-crisis; higher in fact. For some years, the levels were lower.
Perceptions get us only so far, but for what it's worth, my perception is of a significant increase in traffic during the early tourism season. I am not alone in having observed just how busy Alcudia has been. This perception of busyness is primarily a function of road traffic. Throw in all the cyclists, of which there are great numbers, plus delivery trucks, coaches and buses, and the April roads have been in the bedlam category.
Lining the main road on most days are rows of hire cars. One presumes there is now some arrangement with the town hall and/or the Council of Mallorca. Cars can be parked wherever an owner fancies, so long as the parking places are permitted, but there is such a thing as commercial use of the roads. Not so long ago, the town hall made it clear that anyone parking a car with a for-sale sign on it was liable for a fine. The roads, those which aren't the Council's responsibility, are town hall property. If they're to be used for commercial reasons, then there has to be permission - and payment.
The volume of traffic owes a great deal to the number of hire cars. While there is rental all year, in the early season it is particularly attractive. The nature of early-season tourism determines this. Increasingly, so do the preferences of tourists and the supply to meet these preferences. Holiday rental accommodation does not equate exactly to the number of hire cars, but there is unquestionably an equation. It is little wonder that the car-rental business association has thrown its lot in with the Aptur holiday rentals' association in seeking a liberal deal under the new legislation.
Already there is news of the enormous influx of hire cars. Barcelona and Valencia ports have been chock-full of vehicles being shipped to Mallorca and the Balearics. This was the same last year. Cars which had been destined for Turkey ended up here. Ships were apparently performing mid-Mediterranean U-turns and heading for the safe haven of Palma. The roads thus became saturated, along with everything else - beaches, for instance.
But that was more a story about summer. In the early and late seasons, visitors set off for the island's attractions. Included among these are the likes of Sa Calobra and Formentor. The roads to both fall into the somewhat scary category, a scariness made scarier by negotiating a bend only to be confronted by a mass of cyclists, shortly followed by a bus. Undeterred, the visitors keep going (it is pretty difficult to turn round after all), and arrive at, for instance, the lighthouse at Formentor. Which is when they find that they have little alternative but to turn round. There's nowhere to park.
Limits are to be introduced to the number of cars going to Formentor, and not only the lighthouse. How this will be policed, I am unsure, but limits are an inevitable consequence of the success of places like Formentor. People want to go there because they've heard so much about it: or seen it, if only Roper's La Fortaleza. It's a similar story with Sa Calobra, with Lluc, with certain unspoiled beaches. Environmentalists Terraferida are aghast at the tribes of young tourists pitching up on isolated coves and enjoying themselves. And it's still only April.
The Council of Mallorca, we learn, is considering prohibiting car access to Sa Calobra and to the Port of Valldemossa. Escorca town hall has already decided to start charging for street parking in Sa Calobra (and elsewhere). Valldemossa town hall has introduced charges for parking coaches. In Santanyi, there is to be access-denied to cars going to certain coves. In various parts of the island, the shuttle bus has become the mode du jour for transport. Es Trenc has its shuttle. Cala Varques in Manacor is likely to get its. Formentor will probably be served by one from Puerto Pollensa.
All of these places are victims of their own success and of readily available information that recommends them. But they are unable to cope. The infrastructure doesn't exist and for the most part can't exist. There's much too much. Limits are the only solution.